Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Pickled-Chicken Soup

          One of the joys of our recent trip to the Netherlands was my introduction to pickled-chicken soup. Now why that experience at the Rijksmuseum restaurant so impressed itself upon me, I know not. After all it was only one among countless soups made from a wide variety of ingredients. But it did impress me, so there it is. Since returning from that trip I have indulged myself - a most satisfactory enterprise - in trying to reproduce that soup. I have come up with something which, although not identical with the Dutch offering, has a certain character which was not unpleasing. Here then is a report on my culinary activity.

1.        The Pickled Chicken:-

The Marinade:

0.5 tsp of Pepper,
1 tsp of Turmeric,
1 rounded tsp of Sea Salt,
0.5 tsp of Chilli powder. (I used the relatively mild Piment d'Espelette)

Marinade 300 - 350g of white chicken meat, cut into approximately 2 - 4cm. cubes, in the refrigerator overnight. (My preferred method is to place all the ingredients in a plastic, freezer bag, working the marinade all round the chicken.)
          On the following day, add about a half-a-cup of water to a heavy-based saucepan, bring to the boil, add the chicken and its marinade and bring to the boil again. Cook for about 20 mins or until the chicken is dry. Add:

Enough vegetable oil to cover,
4 Tbsp of Garlic paste*,
4 Tbsp of Ginger paste*,

until they are cooked. Add about a third of a cup of white wine vinegar if available (I was obliged to use cider vinegar) and withdraw from the heat. Shred the chicken. Transfer everything to a sterilised jar, and seal. I do not know how long this can be stored in a fridge. (I didn't give it chance to find out!)

*  I blitz a quantity of chopped garlic, or fresh ginger, in a small food processor with enough vegetable oil drizzled in to produce a nice paste. As there is no water used in this method, the resulting paste can be stored in the freezer, in shoulder-less jars for at least two months. It could be longer, but my supplies usually need to be replenished before that.

2.        The Soup.

Heat about 2 Tbsp of the pickling oil. Add a finely chopped onion (200 - 250g), and cook until translucent. Drain off the oil. Add about 200g of drained, pickled chicken and 400ml of homemade (salt-free) chicken stock. When thoroughly heated through, add salt to taste if required. The soup can be served at this stage. Alternatively, withdraw the soup from the heat, slowly whisk in about 2 Tbsp of yoghurt (or cream?), bring back to the heat, but do not boil. Serve.

          Well that is the report of my culinary experiment. If you do take your courage in both hands and try this, I hope you enjoy. We did! A very spiritual experience!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Altogether Unexpected

          Time slips by and I do not post. Somehow there seems to be nothing left to say, but much to be experienced. I do not know......I do not understand......but I do not mind. It is not that I do not care but, through acceptance, that - and I must insist on this - I do not mind. It seemed to come about in the following way.
          For some years I have done a great deal of work on my inner self, work that has been very worthwhile. Out of that came a desire to know and understand all that had happened. I do not regret having spent the time in that way because that was where I was; that was what I needed to do. There came a moment, however, quite recently when I said to myself that my long period of daily, concentrated meditation must stop. The hours spent in study also had to end. These are not decisions that cannot be reversed. In fact it is highly likely that I will return to the situation that existed before those decisions were made.
          I wanted to discover what would happen if I stopped intensive meditation. Of course some form of meditation continues all the time. I choose not, although it often feels as if I am unable, to stop thinking about matters of a psycho-spiritual nature at least for part of my day. I had begun to wonder whether or not my spiritual activities, such as they are, were nothing more than a prop. I was a little anxious, I suppose, that I would finish up discarding a much-loved way of life because it had become irrelevant, the manifestation of an illusion. That it would give me more time for other pressing activities was never a convincing reason for the change. Yet what I discovered was altogether unexpected.
          Somehow, a fresh understanding dawned. I began to see that some of the beautiful but perplexing meditative imagery I had experienced made the kind of good sense that my consciousness could absorb. Far from returning to some pre-ego state by the abnegation of my ego, I have moved towards the experience of what has been called the "trans-ego." This experience comes and goes somewhat, but in perhaps a still faltering way I am beginning to "see" in a way for which I have no words. More and more I face this particular difficulty.
          For the first time in my life I am beginning to understand what real serenity is about. At times it seems like a terribly loving ache, or pain. More and more I find that to love carries something that seems to be too heavy to bear, too painful to choose to experience. Yet it can be no other way. This is the joyous......agony perhaps, that comes from my choices in the past, choices that I know are wholly right.
          So life continues on its way. Whatever situation I find myself in is right for this moment. I will not elaborate on that statement at this time. There will be time enough.

Monday, 12 October 2015

A Late Holiday - Pt.5 - The End

          On the morning following our arrival in Bruges, we had breakfast in the establishment in which we were staying. It was a hearty meal, rather more than that to which I was accustomed, consisting of cheeses, cold meats, bread rolls and croissants, not to mention tea, coffee, juice and yoghurt. We even had soft-boiled eggs on three occasions. In short, we were right-royally fed, always aware of the warning hanging on the inside of the door to our rooms.

I ate sparingly as is my wont, and the landlady suggested we took what was left of our breakfast with us for lunch. Well if we didn't eat it, I thought, the ducks and swans certainly would.
          Off we then went into town to find what we would find, always bearing in mind cabbage soup (as if I needed reminding) and that our route, therefore, needed to be chosen with care. Our first port of call was an apothecary from whom we purchased some mysterious liquid designed to damp down my cough. It was a delightful, olde worlde place with.......well you can see for yourselves.

Moving on, we entered one of the two big squares in the city where we happened to find a museum which sported some superb public facilities in the crypt. Now I am unaccustomed to using public loos. Having tentatively placed a 50 cent piece in the slot and approached the three-pronged barrier with some suspicion, I was dismayed to find that the barrier had turned, leaving me on the outside; most unsatisfactory. I tried again, but determinedly braced my legs to prevent the mishap occurring again. Success!
          In France, it is not unusual to find the 'gents' and the 'ladies' in the same area. Not so on this occasion in Belgium. Now this fact had not imprinted itself on three delightful ladies, including Lucy, who having paid their dues entered this bastion of male privilege. I felt that I needed to point this out to the ladies. I have to say that no-one was in the least bit fazed, in fact one lady all a-giggle and a-titter said,

     "Ooooh, what an experience!"

Now I swear, dear readers, I didn't do a thing except wash my hands. Anyway, I ushered the ladies out, pointing the way to their own facilities. I must add at this point that the facilities supplied by the local restaurants were equally good, at least the three or four that I was obliged to visit were.
          There is no doubt that as far as food and drink were concerned, we had been spoiled in Amsterdam. But never mind, holidays consist of more than just eating and drinking I stoically told myself. There were, however, one or two highlights that I must mention. The first was an accidental discovery of a delightful bar-cum-eating place that was reputedly the oldest such watering hole in Belgium, maybe the oldest in Europe the smiling young waitress told us. Once again, it was delightfully old-fashioned in that might have leaped directly from a Rembrandt canvas - well almost! Here are one or two slightly blurred shots of the place, blurred because they were taken in a hurry so as not to offend the other eaters and drinkers.

The other place of note was an old bar, where we stopped off to have a whisky, my having declined to finish the one in the restaurant we had just vacated. (Should have had a health and safety warning attached to the bottle!)

          Now lest it should be thought that we spent all our time feasting, we did visit other places of interest, such as local folk museums. They really were quite fascinating.

It will no doubt, be observed that the whole city was in a remarkable state of good repair. A great deal of pride for their city was plainly on view.

          When, at last, our time in Bruges was drawing to a close we had one last meal of Angus beef with trimmings as a celebration. Beyond that I will say no more, but rather choose to take you along with Lucy and me on a night-time trip of the canals.

So our holiday came to an end. The following morning would see us wending our way, by bus, to the railway station and thence home. It was a fun time regardless of the down times, but then a holiday isn't the same if everything goes to plan. We have very fond memories of Amsterdam and Bruges, and can recall with some laughter the times when things were a little oops-ish.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Late Holiday - Pt.4

          We had now reached the final, full day of our stay in Amsterdam. Our trip out to Volendam and the surrounding wetlands north of Amsterdam did go ahead, regardless of the cold virus I had attracted. As I said previously, that visit north is something Lucy will describe in due course. I will begin this post with our return to Amsterdam for our final evening meal at the restaurant we visited earlier in the week, Ruering on Lutmastraat.
          We began with an aperitif, a Portuguese Muscat I believe, followed by a 'ceviche mackerel', a lovely entree in which the "juliennated" (if there is such a word) vegetables were warm and al dente, resting on the lovely, marinated and filleted fish. Our main dish was a rib of beef cooked to perfection, which we shared from a platter. There was enough meat cooked to my taste and enough to Lucy's more 'blue' taste, to satisfy each of us. Again there was the stuffed Yorkshire pudding accompaniment, and one other ingredient. Now for those who do not like garlic, please look away if you wish. For us, garlic is always a joy to eat. On this occasion it was half a garlic bulb with its top removed of course, baked with the meat. The scrummy meat juices were served in a separate jug. Now I have had increasing reservations about my favourite Bordeaux wines of late. Whether it is indicative of a change in my palate, or whether there has been a poorer wine produced by that region, I'm not sure. I did however express my apprehensions to mine host who offered us a Cabernet Sauvignon red from Italy. Oh how I wish I had noted the name of that wine. It was one of those delightful tipples that slips down so easily that a bottle can be consumed without noticing it. But that was not to be on this occasion. Finally, having decided to pass on the dessert - I often do that - I had coffee and an unadulterated Scotch, purely for medicinal purposes you understand. It was a happy couple of Brits who walked 'home' that evening.
          The following day, a Sunday, we left our apartment, and took a tram to the central railway station, Amsterdam Centraal. From there we travelled to Bruges (aka Brugge) via Antwerp. After a severe coughing bout earlier, I was less inclined to order my memories of this and the following three days of our holiday, in the way I had done for the Amsterdam phase. I trust that any apparent randomness or haphazard reporting will elicit your understanding.
          We arrived without any certain knowledge of where our accommodation was situated. We were put on a free bus and taken to the town centre, where (we were told) we would be given instructions. Those instructions from the bus driver amounted to nothing more than a kind of 'go thataway!' Whilst Lucy went off to make further enquiries, I waited with that bane of a suitcase and watched, somewhat sporadically, a local troupe of ladies performing belly-dancing in the town centre. Now it has to be said that belly-dancing is not an activity that I can claim to be knowledgeable about. However, I do seem to understand that when a lady wiggles her shoulders, other parts of her upper torso are meant to wobble in unison. That didn't happen on this occasion. Clearly, the ladies enjoyed a good style of living, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, it did mean that there were areas, further down, that went into barely (I use that word advisedly!) controlled wobbles that I think were meant to stay relatively stable. I think that now is a good time to close this subject, before I dig a hole too deep from which to climb. At the end of their performance, they received polite rather than enthusiastic applause. I thought that was a pity, because it takes some bottle to do a performance like that. There are worse ways of spending a Sunday afternoon.
          We set off once more to hunt down our accommodation, our journey taking us along some pretty canals.

Just as we were approaching the vicinity of our haven of rest, we ran into a Sunday street market. Street markets I love; vocal entertainment at such, I loathe - loathe with a passion! We had almost decided to enter a cafe and get some much needed refreshment when to our horror, a wind/brass band with a female player/"singer" decided to let rip.

     "Could you repeat your question, please, dear reader?"
     "No! I didn't say she sounded like a scalded banshee!"
     "It was much worse! And the almost all male band had bags of enthusiasm, but pretty
     well no musicality. Oh our poor ears!"

Needless to say, we passed on the refreshment, and hurried on, at least as quickly as the crowds allowed, to our bed and breakfast accommodation. So relieved were we when we arrived that we hardly noticed the broken mains sewage pipe awaiting pumping-out and repairs a mere few metres from our front door. And this was one evening we were dining in!
          Well I began with food, and now I will end with food. This Sunday evening was one of three of which the restaurant downstairs were open. On the menu was cabbage soup, followed by a fish stew which looked suspiciously like more cabbage soup with fish - cooked of course - floating in it. Now I do not wish to sound unkind, no really! It was good wholesome food, and it saved us going hunting for a restaurant, which in turn would have meant confronting the banshee again. The problem I really need to go into this? Cabbage soup can, and in my case did, have unfortunate repercussions on the digestive system. Let me just say that for at least twenty-four hours, our range of exploration was limited to areas that could offer good toilet facilities.
          In the next part of my tale, I'll explore some random memories of Bruges, and its public services. Until then.......

Friday, 2 October 2015

A Late Holiday - Pt.3

          Over the next three days, the centre one of which was my birthday, our forays into Amsterdam became more intensive making more use of the tramcar system. We upped our usage by buying 48 hour tickets rather than 24 hour tickets, or single-journey tickets. Why not? After all, one could travel all day, anywhere, on one ticket. That's even better than the Paris Metropolitan. Thus it was that on the Wednesday, we went across town, having lunch at the Rijksmuseum where I had that most delicious of soups, pickled chicken. Now I am somewhat at a loss to describe this delight because, although I can find pictures on the internet, I can only find recipes for 'chicken soup with pickles'; not the same thing at all! (Incidentally, they had some quite good pictures in the gallery!!) At the completion of our day's sightseeing (what a touristy word that is) we went back to our apartment to prepare for the evening session.
          We have a couple of friends in Amsterdam who annually spend time in France very close to where we live; just down the road in fact. One is a lovely sculptress, the other an equally lovely singer in the classical mode. They had invited us to dinner, scheduled for six o'clock, after shorts and nibbles. Now it is quite common for the Dutch to eat that early, around two hours earlier than the French. The result being that on this occasion we went to our planned concert after dinner, whereas after our latest trip to Paris we had dinner after the concert.
          After a delicious vegetarian meal of rice and spiced lentils, our friends walked us to the Concertgebow (concert hall), situated near the Rijksmuseum. What a wonderful performance was going to be our lot. As we entered and had our rucksacks removed, there was a wonderful buzz of chatter around the hall. Now the performance area itself was somewhat aged compared with some we have visited, but none the less pleasant for that. Our seats were behind the orchestra, rather than in the main pit (is that the right word?) or in the gallery. This was ideal for me with my hearing difficulties. Then came that moment, on time, when the audience suddenly quietened - that is always a wonderful moment - and onto the stage came the soloist and the conductor ready to perform the Bartok Violin Concerto. Her performance was brilliant, for which she deservedly received a standing ovation.
          The interval followed, but we remained in our seats enjoying the bustle and release of tension, the happy reunions of various people around us, just enjoying the looks of happiness on their faces. After the interval, when the orchestra had retaken their positions, everyone settled down once more in a state of excited expectancy. I was on a real high, these experiences of live music, so reminiscent of those times - now so long ago - when I worked with young peoples' orchestras in England, a comparatively rare event. I knew that we were in for a feast when I counted ten double basses and twelve 'cellos, so typical for a Shostakovitch symphony; in this case it was his 11th. symphony, "The Year 1905." This symphony was written in commemoration of the Russian revolution of that year when hundreds of Russians met in front of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to peacefully petition the Tsar. Over a thousand people were killed when the Cossacks opened fire on them. It is a relatively long symphony, but one whose polished performance brought the house down. I cannot adequately express my feelings here, but it was a performance that I will remember for a very long time.
          I will skip what we did during the following day, until the evening arrived. This was to be my surprise present for the day. Off we went, by tram, towards what turned out to be a rendez-vous with a canal boat taking passengers (six in all) on a candle-lit cruise of the Amsterdam waterways. Wine and cheese were supplied for our delectation. I deliberately left my camera behind on this occasion. It had been raining, again, and it was dark. The purpose of the cruise was to spend a happy time with Lucy, not to try to take smudgy pictures through wet, distorting glass. So I fear I cannot show you pictures of that happy evening, but here are a few shots, taken in daylight, of places we passed.

          It is said that if one kisses under a bridge, of which this is an example, one stays in love for the rest of one's life. That's our future happiness settled then!

          This is the Nemo science centre.

          There is an interesting little story, told to us by our guide, that on the opening night of the floating Chinese restaurant, built to accommodate 700 guests, that number of Dutch diners duly arrived. Perhaps someone hadn't done their homework, but the restaurant calculations were based on Chinese people, not Dutch. The result was that the restaurant sank sufficiently far to flood the lower floors. Alright! The story might well be apocryphal, but our guide enjoyed telling it.

          Passing now to Friday, I had by now begun to develop a cold, possibly as an indirect consequence of a very warm concert hall, followed by chilled, damp night air, and our trip on the waterways. Catching a cold (well one doesn't actually catch it, does one?) causes me concern, but only because I almost inevitably contract a cough as a consequence. On this day, we decided to visit the Ship Museum. That, however, is a visit which Lucy will talk about on "box elder." In the evening we once again met up with our Dutch friends whom we took to a delightful Indonesian restaurant. The usual things were on the menu, curried chicken, a beautifully spiced beef, various vegetable dishes and rice, all washed down with a lovely Viognier white wine.
          That ended the three-day-birthday celebrations. We had one more whole day in Amsterdam, but that will have to wait until next time when I will talk a little about our final meal, and Lucy will talk about our trip to the wetlands just north of the capital.
Footnote:      Amsterdam is full of feeling, even that of perhaps having had a little too much to eat.

So long for now.